Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, 20% of the world’s children not getting any kind of formal education lived in Nigeria.
With the pandemic, even more children have now been pushed out of school due to closures, interrupting children’s education and leaving many students unable to prepare for their final exams.
Basirat Ajayi, a public school teacher in Lagos, wanted to do something about this — so she began offering free mathematics classes online via Twitter, WhatsApp, and Instagram.
Armed with the experience from a WhatsApp group she had used to give her students extra lessons before the pandemic, Ajayi had over 1,000 students — from within and outside Nigeria — sign up in the first week.
The students watch her short math videos — usually no more than five minutes long — and respond to her questions. She follows that with homework, occasional assignments, and grades them too.
“I’m usually up till late in the night — sometimes up to 3 a.m. — marking their assignments and grading them,” Ajayi told Global Citizen. “But somebody had to make sure these kids were ready for their exams and those that can’t even go to school have another way to learn.”
But holding online classes for hundreds of students all over the world is no easy feat in Nigeria where almost half of the population live in poverty.
“I don’t mind using my data to teach or staying up to grade assignments. But what can I really do about my students that can’t afford a smartphone or data?” Ajayi said. “Sometimes, I try to encourage the parents to allow the kids to use their phones to attend classes and, in some cases, I buy data for the kids so they are able to participate.”
Beyond having the tools to participate in classes, Ajayi says running the online classes are not cheap. When she started, she could only afford to solve math problems on camera on white sheets of paper until a parent saw one of her videos and donated a whiteboard.
Furthermore, Ajayi said the online classes don’t offer the kind of instant feedback from the students a teacher would get via in-person classes. Teaching all those kids, grading their work, and following up with assignments is quite a lot of work, she explained, quickly adding that she doesn’t see it as a challenge because she loves to teach.
“Both of my parents are retired teachers and I’ve always looked up to them — I think that’s where I caught the teaching bug from,” she told Global Citizen. “It is what I love to do and something I’m passionate about. That’s why I don’t really see these challenges as dealbreakers.”
Since she started six months ago, more than 3,000 students — from Nigeria and countries like India, Canada, and South Africa — have taken Ajayi’s classes on WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram.
The Nigerian government has officially allowed schools all over the country to reopen and directed all “Unity” schools (secondary schools in Nigeria’s 36 states owned and run by the federal government) to resume classes on Oct. 12, while state and private schools are allowed to set their own modalities for resumption.
But Ajayi, a self-professed advocate of virtual learning, intends to continue her online classes in spite of schools reopening. According to her, “virtual learning has come to stay” and there are still a lot more students who need alternative options to learn.
“Some of these kids either can’t afford to continuously attend school. Many others have different learning capabilities that are not accounted for within the current educational system. Even those that can attend still have to contend with overcrowded classrooms and poor facilities so there is a case to be made for how all those kids are going to be reached,” she told Global Citizen.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t want schools to reopen of course because I really miss my students,” she added. “In fact, I’m really looking forward to it — I have been keeping in touch with as many of them as I can since this all started so it’s exciting to have them back in the classroom again!”
Ajayi is on Twitter (@mathseducator1), Instagram (@mathseducator), and YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGrJmgrZ8eW0SlWbH9SPn1Q).
More than 75 million children globally miss out on the education they deserve because of conflict, natural disasters, or other crises. You can join the movement to ensure every child can access safe, free, and quality education by taking action here.